EXCLUSIVE: The UCB Theater is coming back as Mosaic founder Jimmy Miller and former CEO / Owner of The Onion Mike McAvoy has acquired the legendary comedy brand with the financial support from Elysian Park Ventures.
As part of the acquisition, their plan is to reopen theaters in the coming months as well as completely rebuilding the Upright Citizens Brigade’s business, including providing additional support and opportunities for comedic talent and continuing the brand’s efforts to create a more diverse and inclusive environment. The venue reopening, I’m told, includes UCB’s black box theater at 5919 Franklin Ave. in Hollywood.
Miller will serve as chairman and McAvoy will serve as CEO of the new UCB entity, which is not part of Mosaic. A rep to several big names in comedy, Miller brings a long history of success in entertainment to the future of UCB.
The esteemed comedy theater, which was launched in 1999 in New York by Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh, came at a time when the foursome were exploding with their hit Comedy Central sketch series, Upright Citizens Brigade, which ran for three seasons from 1998-2000. While the four separately burned their own comedy paths in showbiz after the Comedy Central show, UCB Theater and school became its own animal, quickly becoming an incubator for film and TV comedic talent, with a Los Angeles theater and improv / sketch writing school opening in 2005 on 5919 Franklin Ave.
With the pandemic taking its toll on many theaters across the US, both live and cinemas, UCB was forced to close its New York City locations at the onset of Covid, followed by the sale of its then five-year old two-stage venue at 5419 W. Sunset Blvd in December 2020. At the time of that latter announcement, UCB was seeking to maintain its original LA 2005 black box Franklin Ave. venue. Word in improv comedy circles during UCB’s downtime was that the theater / school was looking to become a non-profit, however, they wound up finding a savior here in Miller, McAvoy and Elysian Park Ventures, the latter the private investment arm of the LA Dodgers. More details will be announced in the coming months at ucbcomedy.com in regards to the revamp of UCB.
It will be great to see the UCB Theater back up and running again as the industry has truly looked to the franchise as a place to mine talent. The Groundlings was forced to close during the pandemic, and segued classes online, but then was able to reopen last summer. Chicago’s Improv Olympic, of which the UCB founders were originally members of, studying under improv guru Del Close, was forced to completely close as a result of the pandemic. For the industry, it’s been a place to mine burgeoning talent, ie Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon and Bobby Moynihan cut their teeth there along with multiple Emmy nominees Ellie Kemper and Jack McBrayer; The Daily Show ‘s Rob Corddry and Rob Riggle; Lion‘s Paul Rust, The League veterans Nick Kroll, Paul Scheer and Jason Mantzoukas; Poehler’s fellow Parks and Recreation alums Aubrey Plaza, Ben Schwartz and the late Harris Wittels; spirit Broad City‘s Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson to name a few.
Here in LA, given the fervent following of UCB students, several daily shows at the 92-seat Franklin Ave. theater would sell out seven days a week. Because of that demand, it’s why the org graduated to the two-stage state-of-the-art Sunset Blvd space which had an 85 seat theater, 60 seat theater, 14 classrooms, a podcast studio, as well as two wide open bar areas for community / screening / party use.
“We are pleased to be handing over the reins to Jimmy and Mike in the hopes the theater and school will continue to be a thriving environment for all who want to learn and perform comedy,” said the UCB founders Poehler, Besser, Roberts and Walsh , “We look forward to the ways they will commit to increasing diversity and ensure the continued existence of an organization we have loved and dedicated ourselves to for over 20 years.”
“We are very excited to reopen theaters and get back to putting improvisers of all walks of life on stage,” Miller tells Deadline. “I look forward to helping Mike and the team with their efforts – I look at the UCB theater and school as another great client. To be clear about my interest in this – I love comedy, I love improv, and I love UCB. I want to be sure that this business continues and thrives for 20 more years, and beyond. While this will be a separate business from Mosaic, it is my hope that synergies will be found that provide overall value, support and stage time to as many performers as possible, regardless of representation. ”
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to help lead one of the most respected and influential comedy institutions through its next set of challenges and opportunities,” said McAvoy. “We have many great plans we can not yet talk about in detail, but our first priority is to reopen theaters and training centers in Los Angeles and New York with diversity, equality and inclusion front and center. The additional resources at our disposal will enable us to pay performers for stage time and enhance The UCB 4 Scholarship Program which will continue to aid underprivileged students. ”
New management of UCB will also work with Arts Consulting Group, a third party firm that has been in consultation with members of the UCB community on a variety of diversity initiatives, including HR department creation and the formation of a special committee to oversee and execute clear , ongoing and actionable diversity, equity and inclusion plans.